Kirsten Gillibrand’s family includes Jonathan Gillibrand, her husband, and two children. She is also from a family with deep, storied political roots in Albany, New York.
Indeed, her family’s history is caught up in New York political lore – and some controversy.
Kirsten Gillibrand is expected to throw her hat into the quickly-becoming-crowded Democratic competition to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020. According to The New York Post, she is expected to announce on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that she is forming a presidential exploratory committee.
Gillibrand has served in the U.S. Senate for New York since 2009, replacing Hillary Clinton in the position. A Democrat, Gillibrand, an attorney, was previously an U.S. Representative.
Here’s what you need to know about Kirsten Gillibrand’s family and husband:
1. Gillibrand’s Grandmother Was a Political Force Who Was Part of an Albany Political & Romantic Scandal
Gillibrand’s grandmother was named Dorothea “Polly” Noonan. According to The New York Daily News, she had a “famed relationship” with Mayor Erastus Corning that Gillibrand addressed in her memoir, “Off The Sidelines.”
It was, according to The Daily News, “one of the capital’s most famous (alleged) liaisons.” The Times Union reports that Noonan, who has since passed away, was 22 and a secretary when she was said to have started a relationship with then state Senator Corning. The year was 1937. The relationship was never proven.
“The nature of their relationship remained a subject of crude conjecture throughout their lives,” reports The Times Union.
“From my perspective, the mayor was simply part of our family,” Gillibrand wrote, according to The Daily News. “He appeared at every family birthday party with the most fantastic present.” Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said about Polly Noonan, according to The New Yorker: “I’ve never met another woman that approaches Polly and all that Polly was. And I wish I could. If Polly liked you, she’d do anything for you. If she didn’t, move from the county.”
Actress Edie Falcon was even tapped to play Polly Noonan off-broadway. According to her obituary, Polly Noonan was born in Albany to Dorilla Rosalie Giguere and John S. McLean. French Canadian and Scottish in heritage, she married Peter Noonan. She had four children named Peter E. Noonan Jr., Polly N. Rutnik (Gillibrand’s mom), Brian McLean Noonan, and Pamela N. Montimurro.
The obituary lists some of her many contributions to Democratic politics in New York: “She served as secretary to Senators Julian Erway, Peter D’Allesandro and Joseph Zaretski, retiring from the Senate in 1973, after 37 years. She served as a member of the National Democratic Committee and vice-chair of the N.Y.S. Democratic Committee. Polly also founded the Democratic Women of the Legislature and succeeded Mary Marcy as president of the Albany County Democratic Women’s Club.”
2. Gillibrand Credits Her Mother For Also Inspiring Her Life in Public Service
Gillibrand’s mother followed in the footsteps of her own mother and was devoted to public service. “Born and raised in upstate New York, Kirsten inherited a dedication to public service from her grandmother and mother, who served tirelessly in their community,” Gillibrand’s website says.
“After drawing inspiration from these strong role models and others, as a young lawyer in New York City, Kirsten decided that pursuing a path of helping others was how she wanted to live her life.”
To Vogue Magazine, Gillibrand praised her mother’s strength. According to The New Yorker, Gillibrand’s mother “was one of a small number of women in her law-school class, and hunted the family’s Thanksgiving turkeys with a gun or a bow and arrow.”
3. Gillibrand’s Father Was a Lobbyist With Ties to a Controversial Group
According to The New York Times, Gillibrand’s father was Douglas P. Rutnik. He was “Mayor Corning’s hunting buddy, and was considered his surrogate son,” reports The Times, which says he’s a lobbyist “who has represented Morgan Stanley and Lockheed Martin” and a “close associate of former Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato.”
There are other controversies. According to Slate, “Rutnik’s services were employed in 2004 by Nxivm, a group that describes itself as a self-help organization but which has been described by others as a cult and multilevel marketing scam.” Gillibrand’s parents are divorced.
The Washington Post ran an opinion column that derided attempts to link Gillibrand to Nxivm through her dad, noting, “Rutnik spent a few months doing legal and lobbying work for the company and then quit.”
In 2018, Art Voice reported that Doug Rutnik’s work for the group dated back 12 years and “NXIVM hired Doug as a consultant for $25,000 a month.”
4. Kirsten & Her Husband, Jonathan, Met on a Blind Date & Have Been Married Since 2001
Jonathan is a British venture capitalist and worked as a financial consultant for his own firm, Venture Capital Partners. A 2009 report by The Daily Gazette said that Jonathan, while working for real estate investment firm Redbrick Partners, logged 187 transactions in 2008 that involved $2.1 million and $8 million changing hands.
“He made trades nearly every day from mid-January to mid-April, a month before their second child was born, and also conducted frequent transactions from late August through the end of November,” the article said.
Jonathan then worked as a finance manager for GBS Holdings LLC. and earned $89,077, according to a 2015 joint tax filing.
“Not many husbands want their wives to be in politics, because it’s intense,” Kirsten told Vogue. “The only thing he doesn’t like is when I’m attacked. He gets very upset.”
Kirsten spoke to New York Family Magazine in 2013 and told the story of how she met Jonathan. She said that they met in New York City while he was earning his master’s degree in business from Columbia University. At the time, she was working at a law firm, and they were set up by friends on a blind date.
“We hit it off right away,” she told the magazine.
Kirsten and Jonathan got married in 2001 in a Catholic ceremony in a Manhattan church. She told the magazine during her Q&A that Jonathan “has been a really supportive husband,” adding that he’s one of her firmest believers.
“He’s always said, ‘As long as you’re making a difference, as long as you’re helping people, this is something we’re going to do. And the day that you’re not is the day we’re not going to do it!'” she said.
She told Vogue Magazine: “I thought he was one of the nicest and kindest people I’d ever met,” says the senator. “That’s what charmed me.” He’s two years younger than Kirsten.
5. Kirsten Gillibrand Is the Mother of Two Boys
After two years of marriage — in 2003 — Kirsten gave birth to their first child, a son named Theodore. Their second son, Henry, was born in 2008. During her second pregnancy, she worked until the day she gave birth to Henry, and she received a standing ovation from her colleagues inside the U.S. House of Representatives the following day.
She described Theodore as being an introvert, enjoying computers and building things. In the New York Family magazine article, she said that she could see him being an engineer when he grows up, adding that he also loves various sports.
Henry, on the other hand, is the extrovert of the two and “loves to go to parties, go out to dinner, meet people,” she said. “They both have a great sense of beauty and design. They’re both sensitive boys, very sensitive of other people, but very different in personality. Henry is much more like me and Theo is much more like Jonathan.”
Kirsten described her and Jonathan of being “the yin and the yang.” She said that she’s the encouraging parent and loves going out and doing things with her sons, while Jonathan is focused the most on their academics and reading.
“We balance each other well in letting our children develop as young people who will hopefully be strong adults with strong character and good integrity,” she said during the interview.